Every year throws up a long list of news stories, product launches and events. This year was better than most. Here are
six 2019 stories that resonated with me. It's a personal, unordered list and it's written from a New Zealand
perspective. You may have other highlights. Feel free to share them in the comments below.
Apple AirPods Pro
Apple used a busy, noisy Auckland cafe to show off the AirPods Pro. By the time they hit New Zealand there was already
an excited buzz about the noise cancelling ear buds. I expected a positive experience.
Even so, the sound quality was surprising. It wasn't only the active noise cancelling, although that's impressive
enough. The AirPods sound is accurate. It doesn't seem possible that something so small could sound so good.
Until 2019 it had been a long time since I left a product demonstration with a smile on my face. Then it happened twice
in a short period. First with the Apple AirPods Pro, then a second time with the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
The price tag is be north of three grand (NZ$3400). Samsung's first generation folding phone is a touch more fragile
than I'd like. Yet here is the first major breakthrough in handset design since Apple's first iPhone. Samsung has broken
the mould and come up with real innovation.
Samsung's Galaxy Fold is less a phone, more a small tablet that you can fold and carry in a pocket. You might even see
it as a pocket computer. Either way, it is beyond impressive.
When folded it is a long slim phone, a little thicker and heavier than we've come to expect. Unfolded it is about the
size of an iPad Mini and does much the same job.
Huawei showed its folding phone
earlier at Mobile World Congress. A brief look confirmed it was a contender. So far, only one of the two models on show
in Barcelona has made it to market in New Zealand.
No doubt there will soon be more, better folding phone designs. I'd love to see what Apple can do with this format: how
about an iPhone that morphs into an iPad?
But for now, this is Samsung's triumph.
Spark Sport, Sky Sport Now
Spark Sport's Rugby World Cup service came in for flak and some cruel media attention. That's what you get for
interfering with New Zealand's favourite sporting code.
In my experience the streaming service worked fine during the RWC. I've racked up well over a hundred hours with the
app. A lot of that was watching Premier League football1
There have been hiccups, yet it is better experience than the BeIN service it replaced. My only gripe was I enjoyed the
preview shows and the run-up coverage before big games on BeIN. Spark offers less of that. Also, half time is not so
much fun without pundits.
Spark's entry into streaming sport services has seen Sky lift its game. The new Sky Sport Now
app has 12 channels of sport around the clock.
Sky Sport Now has excellent cricket coverage. It fills the European and international football gaps left by Spark. Most
of the time there are enough channels to cover every game. Although there was one Champion's League round where my team,
Chelsea, only showed up as a replay later in the day.
I'm not complaining. The service is excellent. It's good to see Spark and Sky compete by offering the best customer
experience. It would be great if we had more of this kind of competitive tension.
The two streaming sport options are great value. Buying Sky Now and Spark Sport works out less each month than an
old-style subscription to Sky's satellite service. By my reckoning, there's a broader selection of content to watch.
That's a win.
Deebot Ozmo 900
Robot vacuums aren't new. The Deebot Ozmo 900
updates the idea. It offers mopping as well as vacuuming. I had low expectations before I saw it in action. It
impressed me once we used it. This is the only way to go.
The best part about the Ozmo 900 is that it's low-slung body can get under beds, cupboards and tables. These are places
where manual vacuuming gets hard. Another great aspect is, because it does all the work, you can vacuum more often
keeping the house cleaner.
Ozmo 900 is a long way from the Androids science fiction writers promised for 2019
. The good news is we don't need to hire bladerunners to take them out when we're done with them.
[caption id="attachment_13516" align="aligncenter" width="580"]
Steven Joyce installing Auckland's first UFB cable - Albany - 24 August 2011[/caption]
UFB: end of part 1
In the end builders finished the national UFB fibre network on time and under budget. That's rare for a major
infrastructure project and unusual given the project length. Read how the project started in The Download
For me one of the clearest signs the original UFB project succeeded is that government found more money to connect
another 169 areas. The so-called UFB2 takes coverage to around 85 percent of the country.
Another clear sign of success was Spark's decision to stream Rugby World Cup coverage.
Next year, Chorus and central North Island fibre company UFF will offer 2Gbps and 4Gbps fibre. We've come a long way
from ten years ago. Then a 30mbps fibre service looked like the last word in modern data communications.
The Vodafone giant awakes
In recent years it seemed as if Vodafone's New Zealand operation wasn't going anywhere. In part this was because the
parent company felt it had better things to invest in than the second telco in a small, remote country.
That changed in May. Infratil and Brookfield Asset Management took control in a $3.4 billion deal
. Chief executive Jason Paris wasted no time getting the new owners to free up capital. This let Vodafone steal a march
on Spark and get a sizeable 5G network running. Vodafone switched 5G on earlier this month
There has also been an investment in customer support. That's something that was an embarrassment in the past.
These initiatives are important, yet there's more to the change. It's as if Vodafone has had a vitamin injection. Now
there is an energy to the business that wasn't there before. It helps that Paris recruited fresh talent to senior
positions, but it goes beyond that. It is as if the company has awoken from a slumber.
What it means in practice is that Spark faces greater competitive pressure than it did 18 months ago. Likewise the next
tier of telcos; 2degrees, Vocus and so on, are also feeling the heat. Ten years after government restructured the
industry we are seeing the competition those moves aimed to unleash.
Six of the biggest tech moments of 2019 are positives. The seventh is also a positive, but it's a positive that came
about because of an horrific negative.
In May Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the Christchurch Call summit in Paris. It was a response to the
Christchurch mosque shootings. The terrorist shooter filmed his crimes, streaming them online in real time.
The summit attempts to force social media companies to take more responsibity for material they publish. During the
year, 48 countries signed an agreement to stop social media publishing terror messages. The US didn't sign.
It isn't clear if the initiative will work. Yet it is a first step towards wrestling control of online media away from
the murderers and criminals who use it as a weapon. I suspect there is more to do, but the longest of journeys starts
with a single step.
It could be more than 200 hours, I'm not counting
Seven biggest tech moments of 2019
was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.